"Small" Car Of The Year Awards - AutoObserver

"Small" Car Of The Year Awards

The ballot for voting on the 2012 North American Car and Truck of the Year awards just arrived in my email, and I’m flummoxed. Every year, the awards’ jurors -- 50 journalists from across North America who cover all facets of the auto industry -- insist selecting the winners is more difficult this year than in the past. But, truly, this year is a challenging one because the car category is dominated by small cars, and the truck category has not a single “real” truck.

About a dozen car candidates boast 40 mpg, and just over a dozen are over 30 mpg achievers. That certainly is admirable, just not very sexy for voting jurors. Clearly, consumers are the winners with this bumper crop of outstanding small, fuel-efficient choices. That field in the competition consists of: Buick Verano; Chevrolet Sonic; Fiat 500; Ford Focus (top); Hyundai Accent; Hyundai Elantra; Hyundai Veloster; Kia Rio/Rio 5; Scion iQ; Subaru Impreza; Toyota Prius V; and the Volkswagen Beetle. And that’s not even all of the small cars introduced this year. The venerable Honda Civic, which has been much maligned by the media including Consumer Reports, didn’t make the short-list cut, nor did the Toyota Yaris.

The Audi A6 and Audi A7, glorious cars and favorites of jurors, are the only luxury models to make the list. They are unlikely to win as they are not accessible pricewise to mainstream Americans. The full-size Chrysler 300, including its SRT-8 version, also is in contention. Only two midsize sedans are in the running: the revamped Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat, which holds some interest as it is the first VW built in the United States in decades. It recently won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award. When all is said and done, my bet is the 2012 winner -- to be announced on Jan. 9, 2012, the first press day of the North American International Auto Show -- will be a small car, and the 2012 honors will go down in history as the “small” car of the year award. Which small car wins will be the only surprise.

Utilities dominate the so-called “truck” category again this year. We debate creating a utility of the year award every year but have resisted so far. The utilities in contention are the BMW X3, Honda CR-V, Land Rover Evoque and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. The Nissan Quest minivan made the list as did the Saab 9-4X, an SUV based on the same architecture as the Cadillac SRX. And the Mini Countryman also is in the competition. Yes there was much debate about whether the Countryman belonged in the truck category so don’t bring it up. My bet is a utility will win, and likely one in the luxury vein.

The North American Car and Truck of the Year awards are unique in the United States because -- instead of being given by a single media outlet -- they are awarded by automotive journalists from the United States and Canada who represent magazines, television, radio, newspapers and web sites. The jury comprises a wide range of professional journalists across North America who report not only on the cars themselves but also on the auto industry in general. I have been a long-time juror. Fellow Edmunds.com colleague Scott Oldham is also a juror.

The original list of eligible cars totaled 30 models. The jury winnowed that list to 17 in early voting. Only seven trucks were eligible so all remain in the running. NACTOY jurors have been evaluating the vehicles, including a driving event held in Hell, Mich., in October. Now comes the serious voting, which has a Dec. 9 deadline. Each journalist-juror disperses 25 points to the various candidates in the two categories. Jurors can give a maximum of 10 points to one vehicle in each category, but no other vehicle can receive more than nine of those points. That round of voting will yield three car and three car finalists, which will be revealed at Dec. 15 meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit. That announcement will be followed by a final round of voting, in which jurors disperse 10 points among the three finalists in each category, to determine the ultimate winners.

Established in 1994, the NACTOY awards honor vehicles that set new standards or become new benchmarks in their class. Each vehicle is judged and ranked by various categories. Those include general design, safety, fuel economy, handling and general roadworthiness, performance, comfort, assembly quality, functionality, technical innovation, driver satisfaction and price. Value for the dollar and affordability are particularly important factors. The awards are funded exclusively by the jurors. Last year’s winners were the Chevrolet Volt and Ford Explorer.

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